The community of "us"

Posted 07.12.12

SHAWVILLE, QUEBEC | About a week ago after a meal with one of my lovely daughters, I was driving home thinking about sitting across from her and seeing myself in her face and expressions.

This wasn't a mirror image, but clearly I could see parts of myself within her face and inside her expressions.

What was startling was the realization that I was not seeing myself or me in another's face, as I had always thought, rather I was experiencing an "us" instead of a "me."

Like most parents I've seen this before, these fleeting glimpses of our faces within the faces of our daughters, sons, and grandchildren. But I thought little of it, assuming I was merely catching an example of my family genes in action. I've just as often noticed shades of their mother in their faces.

What I was seeing here in real time and in real flesh was a real community of eyes, noses, foreheads, mouths, glances, laughter, even quirky pronunciations and expressions. These are glimpses of "the community of us", reflected back to us.

It was startling, for me at least, to think of myself at that table less as an individual and more as an "us."

It's surprising only because in our North American society we put such extreme value on being an individual. Each one of us is unique in the entire history of humanity! We take that fact, also a little surprising, and run with it.

We put all our eggs in that single ideological basket -- that everything must be made easier for "the individual" -- we are to remove all constraints to individualism, and we teach that the best things in life come through individual effort and personal choice.

At least so goes our national song. "Community" is an acceptable concept usually in the context of advertising and image-promotion. The real nitty-gritty of life, of our work and play, our ambitions and plans, has to do with individual effort. An alien visitor might be puzzled to see how much trust we put, at least verbally, into merely the promise of individualism and personal choice.

Yet, there, across the table from me in the real world of real people and jobs and ambitions, there were more than two individuals. There was an undeniable us, and by blending the needs and the expanded capabilities of this "us," this genetic collective, we are able to achieve our goals and help each other toward happiness and personal fulfillment. Reciprocity, it's called.

With our excessive regard for individualism, do we pay as much attention to this reciprocity as it merits? Isn't our personal happiness connected to the genetic collectivity to which we each and all belong?

A little more attention to, and cultivation of, the "us" might make our world not only run more smoothly but be a much happier and fulfilling place.

Or so it seemed to me as I rounded the s-curve at Bristol, facing the big red sun, both of us homeward bound.

Copyright © 2012 Fred Ryan/Log Cabin Chronicles/07.12